Roger Goodell loves to trot out the phrase, “we must protect the Shield”, in reference to keeping the NFL brand intact. He usually uses the phrase when talking about wayward players who are doing things to embarrass themselves, as well as the league. He will often tell players directly that they have a role in protecting the Shield.
The point is valid, as the NFL like any big corporation, must appear clean to the public. They must present themselves as a public good that is not only a money printing machine, but an entity that benefits everyone connected to it. That includes the players, the community, the stadium workers, sub contractors and the list goes on and on. That concept is being tested each time a lawsuit pops up from former players.
The Shield is going to have to endure numerous lawsuits and attacks on the character of the NFL.
The latest lawsuit involves former players who have alleged that they were pumped full of pain killers by team trainers, often illegally. The players say they were harmed by this practice by becoming addicted to the pain killers and are now suffering the ill effects of having the meds flow through their bodies for years. Were these players grown men who could have stopped at any time? Yes. Are doctors supposed to put patient care above their own paychecks? Absolutely. This is the problem with this lawsuit. There is responsibility on both sides. But the Shield faces the most damage that will come from the suit. Players have nothing to lose by joining the lawsuit.
As this latest attack on the NFL gains momentum, the NFL looks worse and worse. They have already agreed to pay out $765 million in the concussion lawsuit. The pain killer case is going to be lost by the NFL in my opinion. I don’t know if it will cost the league the same amount as the concussion suit, but a win for the players will not be chump change. However, public opinion is what is most important when it comes to these issues. As a kid, I could have never imagined the NFL as something that was harmful longterm to the players. I loved these guys who made big hits, threw game winning touchdowns, and played even when hurt. Hell, Ronnie Lott had part of his own finger amputated just so he would not miss a game! That toughness made him one of my all time favorite players. I loved the NFL, still do. But as a thinking adult I cannot ignore the fact that the players have been damaged for my entertainment.
The NFL is the most powerful sports league in the USA. They can certainly withstand lawsuit after lawsuit. They have pockets deeper than Hugh Hefner‘s roster of blonds. Withstanding public opinion turning will be harder for the Shield to endure. The more information that comes out about what it takes to stay on the field in pro football, the more enthusiasm that will be sucked out of many football fans. Only the coldest of hearts can ignore the bodily damage to their fellow humans in the name of entertainment.
The NFL is not going anywhere anytime soon. They are too powerful, too rich, and too popular. They will remain the #1 sport in America forever unless something totally outrageous happens. But the lawsuits will keep coming. The NFL is a great target for money-hungry lawyers and broke players who have blown through the cash they managed to make playing a game. The future crop of players could be diminished as well, if only slightly, as moms and dads decide that football is just too violent for their young kids to play. The NFL has been too violent all along, but we as fans have just been too busy being entertained by a great game to notice. The Shield will survive, but it is facing an onslaught that could not have been envisioned by anyone just a decade ago.